Plotting: New News and Book Reviews

Mad Maude & The Hatters

Since my last post, I’ve been to Germany (where I drank better beer than you did for eight days straight), joined a fun new band called Mad Maude & the Hatters (Shame. Shame. Shameless self-promotion), and read a book worth writing about: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Since I’m sure you don’t want me to brag-brag-braggy-brag you to death, I’ll get to the book review and leave Germany for a later post. By the way, this is an informal review. At work, I’m all formality and starched skirts, but on this blog, I’m gonna go ahead and unbutton the top button, if you know what I mean.

Okay, let’s get down to business, starting with the stuff dreams are made of.

The Virgin Suicides: my sort of book candy. Next to an original Henry Darger, you can’t get a better glimpse of young girls battling personal demons.

Middlesex: could a book be any better? Nope. Don’t think so.

Jeffrey Eugenides: the sort of guy who actually replied wittily and sweetly to an almost stalkish, “I-love-you-this-much” email I sent to his actual work account when I was an undergraduate student.  In other words, I’m a huge fan. A giant, obsessed geek who wanted to name my latest band “Lux Lisbon” before realizing some gents in the UK beat me to it. Sigh. To top it off ,their album is called “Your Heart is a Weapon the Size of Your Fist.” :: slaps self on forehead for not thinking of things first ::

That being said, here it goes.

Source: Personal Copy (picked up at a random B&N trip)

THE MARRIAGE PLOT  

What I liked:

1. The character development was top-notch.

I feel that Madeline’s annoying-yet-needy/independent nature really resonates with that inner emotionally crazed girl in all of us.  Crying one second, taking her top off the next, that’s the kind of girl that I know and can relate to.  She seemed real. There were times I wanted to smack her face, but that’s true of many many characters I’ve gotten into bed with. Bad joke. I know. Sorry.

2. Of all the characters, I liked Leonard the best. Eugenides portrayal of someone who suffers with manic depression and bipolar disorder seemed believable and accurate. In my own life, I’ve known quite a few “Leonards.” They may not have ever donned a cape, but they did obsess and freak out and gain weight and lose weight and become their disease. Good job, Jeff.

What I got tired of:

1. Marshall. Marshall. Marshall. He was the guy in my English class that bored the shit out of me. The guy who likes the hot girl he can’t have, the guy that is sort of pretentious in his un-pretentiousness, the guy who is too smart and travels too much. Does that make sense? Perhaps that was the point. Perhaps we weren’t supposed to like him.

2. I also missed having separate chapters. Since we change narrative perspective in each section, I understand the set up, but I’m a traditionalist in some ways. I like those little markers that tell me I can take a quick pee or hop in the shower. This is obviously a personal thing.

Overall: If you love Eugenides, give it a go and let me know what you think. For me, it was worth it. It took a while to get through the first fifty pages and get to what I think is the “meat” of the book, but that could have been caused by hunger, not necessarily a bad plot progression.

Rating: I give it a T-rex  for sure.

Thoughts?

Here are some other great reviews that I found on the Marriage Plot that are much fancier than mine:

The Marriage Plot- Jeffrey Eugenides-Book Review

The New York Times: Sunday Book Review

The Family Fang: Review

Bought at a random trip To B&N to cure boredom, at the suggestion of Jenn aka thepickygirl.

 

Hell yes. This is good stuff. A book where parents eff their kids up without remorse, all in the name of capital A-R-T.  I can relate. Replace “A-R-T” with “R-E-L-I-G-I-O-N,” and you have The Family Ivy.

By Ch. 2, I was lolling all over the place. And…. I actually stayed interested as the story progressed, which is a great feat for me. At times, I swear I accidentally switch brains with my dog Annie and can only think of food and sleep, which interferes with actually FINISHING good books (I have had 100 pages left of The Historian for the past year). Sigh.

Back to the Fangs.

Kevin Wilson is really damn good at ending paragraphs. Every last line of the first few chapters made me stop, go back, and reread. Nice job, Kev.

To sum it up, I stayed interested until the very end. The end disappointed the heck out of me for reasons I can’t exactly place. The plot seemed to be working towards some cataclysmic event, and then all of the sudden, the balloon didn’t pop. It sputtered out.  It made one of those fart sounds. I can’t say I’d like it more if it had had some explosive ending, but I know I was mildly disappointed. I felt very “Hmmmfph” about the ending.

But, I’ll admit, I can’t think of a way he could have done it better or differently.

Aside from the ending, the middle was freaking delish. I loved the way he crafted his sentences. The way he weaved this twisted family of characters together really worked.

My favorite selection from the novel comes at a moment when Annie Fang thinks about a life without her parents (Damn this format for making block quotes look retarded):

And then, no one to prevent this unfounded optimism, she imagined a future where her parents had never existed in the first place. Once she allowed herself this miracle, as soon as it had taken shape, it immediately burned up in the atmosphere, turned to vapor, and Annie realized that, without her parents, there would be no way into the world for her. She could not, despite every attempt to do so, figure out a way that she could arrive ahead of her parent, to outspace them. It would have to be her parents, young and still tender, entirely unaware that their children, Annie and Buster, were moving, inexorably, toward them, waiting to be named (209).

In a sentence or two:

Annie and Buster Fang find themselves in an awkward state of adult rebellion as they come to the realization that their parents’ involvement in their live is in the name of art rather than love.  The Family Fang is witty, well written, and outlandish in an endearing way.

Rating: One T-REX*

*I don’t officially have a rating system since I’m new to blogging and reviewing, but when I do, it will be a system consisting of dinosaurs and aliens. T-REX = Powerful read. Worth it.

Note to my mother:

Mom, you should read this book and think of the times you made us visit nursing homes armed with bananas and peppermints in an attempt to socialize us, your two, homeschooled nerds. FAIL. (Didn’t you also make us attend FFA (Future Farmers of America) meetings, despite the fact that we didn’t own an animal or a farm?

 

 

 

 

 

My Melted Baby and Other Post-Readathon Commentary

Light Reading

I would deem last night’s readathon a complete success. Though I didn’t get much in-depth reading done (I won’t even admit the page count), I did eat a lot of snacks: guacamole and chips, pizza rolls, and even some corn chowder that Adrienne brought over. It was a strange combo, and since we were both already in a slightly somber, yet relaxed-and-groovy mood, we opted for apple juice instead of wine.

Now, as far as Mitford’s’ novel Don’t Tell Alfred goes, I still can’t really tell you much. I’ve tried to read it three times now. Pfff. Nancy and I usually get along swimmingly, but I just reach a block at page forty or so.

My favorite lines thus far, however, have been Fanny’s thoughts regarding motherhood. She has just found out that her son Alfred has been appointed Ambassador to Paris and is happy and distraught upon hearing the news, which makes her contemplate the nature of the relationship between a mother and her child:

(I have formatting issues so if this block quote doesn’t come out right…..Doh!)

In moments of introspection I often thought that a woman’s need for children is almost entirely physical. When they are babies one cuddles  and kisses and slaps them and has a highly satisfying animal  relationship with them. But when they grow up and leave the nest  they hardly seem to belong any more (19).

I like this idea that kids are just sort of physical necessities. You knock em’ around, smash their faces between your palms and smooch em’….all to satisfy an “animal” need of some sort. I guess it is best one of my children is plastic and the other one is furry.

My friend Justin Varner (who is also an amazing artist!) gave me a miniature, plastic baby boy he found at a toy stoy in Austin after hearing of my various, “When are you having a baby and getting married?” troubles. I keep it on the dashboard of my car, and it is now all melted and mutant looking, which shows I am a shitty mother, even to plastic babies. On that note, I will leave you with this picture:

My Melted Baby

Sunday’s Craft Attempt: crocheting. I had a book (see pic in slideshow below) and a friend show me the basics. All I’ve successfully created is something that looks like a tortured blue sperm. Sigh. Will keep you updated on my success. Maybe the blue sperm will turn into a cute baby…blanket.

Hope everyone enjoys cooking or reading or eating or just being plain lazy today.

I’d also like to send a big thanks and a hug to all who came out to the benefit to support Marlee yesterday. We sold so much jambalaya and we had a great time playing for such a great cause.  I promise I’ll start working on the new cd again soon. I just have to finish this blanket first.

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Eating. Reading. Taking My Pants Off.

Okay, today I’m participating in my first readathon, and I’m really excited. With what is left of the evening, I plan on taking my pants off  and reading. I guess I should wait until I get home to do that since I’m using the interwebs at my friend Brittany’s house and don’t want to freak her out by unzipping. Plus, she just offered me some CHEEZ-ITs.

My TBR list consists of a couple of Barbara Pym finds from the Galveston book store (above), and Nancy Mitford’s Don’t Tell Alfred, which I hope is as funny and charming as her Love in a Cold Climate.

I feel so behind in the snacking. I definitely need to catch up on the snacking. If anyone else wants to nerd out with me, stop by my house and bring some vino. I will have the fire going, and I may even drum up a batch of wassail.

If I don’t have time to drive to the law firm down the road and steal some wifi again, I’ll get out the ol’ crystal ball and tell you how things went down: I ate too much, read too little, and plan on doing this again soon.

Thanks to Amanda at deadwhiteguys for letting this newbie blogger join in!

 

What the F is Wassail?

I don’t mind telling you that I like to completely nerd out for the holidays. I like to go around calling myself grandma. I attempt to crochet (unsuccessfully), I bake pies (so far, only blueberry), and I decorate like a madwoman, or at least as much as my budget allows.

In the spirit of my yearly letsgetretardedforchristmas state of mind, this past weekend I made my annual batch of wassail. All two of my friends that came over after I made it had never heard of it, which made me question why I’ve made a tradition out of a tradition I know nothing about.

The truth is I can’t freaking remember the exact year I started making it. I got this simple recipe SOMEWHERE and have been serving it every year since, minus the one or two years when making it reminded me too much of the ex. ::insert your sad face or your snarky comment here::

According to the extensive research I’ve done (one-click-wikipedia-style), this hot mulled cider is part of an old English tradition performed with the intention of ensuring a good crop of cider apples for the next year’s harvest (according to wiki-peeps). As you can read here: It also refers to both the salute ‘Waes Hail’, the term itself is a contraction of the Middle English phrase wæs hæil, meaning literally ‘good health’ or ‘be you healthy’…

So, there you have it. Here’s the recipe that I have (I suggest you make it immediately and thank me later):

Half a jug of Cranberry Juice

Half a jug of Apple Juice

1 sliced lemon (add a bit of grating as well)

six cinnamon sticks

About twelve whole cloves

1/3 of a bottle of your favorite dry red wine (I found mine for six bucks at Kroger!)

1 1/3 cups of sugar

Combine juice and sugar and bring to a boil. Then bring it down to a simmer and add lemon and spices and cook for thirty minutes. When it is hot and ready, add your wine and serve it hot.

Some people place some of those little red hot candies in their cups before they serve it, but the drink is so overly powerful and intense, I don’t find it necessary. Also, it says you can wrap the spices in a cheesecloth as you are simmering. I do this ghetto-style by ripping open a tea bag, replacing the tea with the cloves. One word of advice. Don’t go overboard. This stuff is meant to be sipped. You’ll see why.

On another note, look at my Christmas tree and random decorations (the bf is my favorite piece of decor). He might be mad I posted that one of him sleeping.

The way I feel about my Christmas tree is much like the way most young mothers feel about their newborns. ISN’T SHE LOVELY? LOOK AT THE WAY THE LIGHT SPARKLES OFF OF HER BRANCHES!   Okay, I’m done.

For a poor girl with thirty thousand dollars worth a debt, i didn’t do so bad (referring to the decor, not the bf…though I’m quite pleased with him as well).

Notice: no presents yet.

Pinching pennies until the trip to Germany!

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Remembering the “Texas Termite”

Tuesday night, while cleaning up the random files on my desktop, I found this:

As I’m writing this, my grandpa is performing his “crack the egg over the knee” bit, trying to distract me.  I watch him try to spread out the fingers of his right hand across my knee. The tip of his pointer finger is missing, the mark of a table-saw mishap thirty years before, back when he made his living slinging hammers, building houses, including the one I live in now. His other fingers have been bent by age and arthritis, and he can no longer straighten them. Since the Alzheimer’s set in two years ago, he has become more and more fascinated by this. He’ll often grab my hand, comparing it to his own.

I had written it May 13, 2009. My grandfather passed away September 6, 2011. What struck me about the passage was that I had thought to write it in the first place. A few folders later, composed an evening earlier, I came across a half-written poem, its focus that same moment:

It isn’t magic, just a trick of touch

The tips of my grandfather’s fingers, stretching out

Like spiderwebs across my knees.

“Cracking eggs,” he says.

Looking back now on those words, to witness that brief exchange again, years later, I can’t help but feel loss sitting like a heavy brick on my lap. Each sentence, each line, taps against a heart that is still tender in places. And it isn’t all sentimentality that has me sitting here at my desk at work, crying like a child, emptying out a box of Kleenex. It is something else.

When I think of my grandpa, it’s hard to see him as a little boy in overalls, his eleven plain-faced sisters in their handmade dresses looking over at him and his younger brother, Glenn.  The stories shared of his youth spent on the farm have all become fragmented and foggy with time. Distant and unreachable are the many details that made up his life. My grandfather’s love was quiet. He didn’t shower us with gifts or compliments. Instead, he listened. He watched. He made us laugh.

I do know that his handle on the CB radio was “Texas Termite,” that he had ears that stuck out farther than mine. His laugh was raspy and always made me think he was choking on something. He made the best beef jerky. When I was a little girl, he took me with him to his BBQ stand and let me hand out the bags of chips and chipped beef sandwiches to the customers. He was funny. He was goddamned funny.  He wore denim, always denim. Maybe some flannel here and there.

At my grandmother’s house, my grandpa’s red chair, arms and seat worn from years of getting up and down and up again, sits empty.  When I go visit her, I don’t feel right about sitting there.  I want to save his place.

Today is Thanksgiving. My two brothers, my two sisters, and I will all lie around on my grandmother’s living room floor like sloths. We will feel fat and sleepy. And, most of all, thankful. Thankful for all the “cracked eggs,” those delicate emotions of shared experience.

Confessions of a Crappy Baker: Blueberry Pie Success!

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I’m not going to lie. I’m a shitty baker. Last time I made cookies from scratch, the fan lights exploded, there was a shower of glass (long story), and that was after I burned the chocolate in the microwave and realized that the vanilla I had bought was actually red food coloring.

I try. I really do. But I’m really bad with simple directions.  Blame it on my mother. I’m a freaking space cadet. I usually zone out, end up mixing the order of when I’m supposed to do what. Tears happen. I curse. I scream. Flour is everywhere. But have I given up on baking? Hell no. Did I eat the cookies that possibly had shards of glass in them? Hell yes.  Give them to a few friends? Oops.

A week ago my friend Rob broke out into hives because he at too many red peppers. So, being the kind lass that I am, I knew I owed him that blueberry pie I’d been promising him.  Thus, armed with a recipe given to me by friend Daniella, (She found it from a blog that I am now completely obsessed with: The Bitten Word), I set to work.

My rent house has a small kitchen, but I managed to make the pie dough with relative ease. I love that this crust calls for a bit of vodka. I smiled as I made it a little more “Texas” by adding that splash of Tito’s (which, as the guys at The Bitten Word rightly assured me, made the crust flaky and perfect).  And, the blueberries that my friend Celine and I had handpicked from Griffin Berry Farm this past May, made a great addition to the fresh taste of this pie. I had to mix two cups of store-bought because we are running low, but in my mind….the blueberries made all the difference.

If you’ve never been to Griffin Berry Farm, you should definitely check it out. I love that place. Ten bucks for a gallon of blueberries. We froze them, and they still tasted great.

The only trouble I had with the pie was cutting out the holes on the top layer of the pie  crust. I didn’t have a biscuit cutter, so I used a shot glass I bought at the Eiffel Tower (How do ya like that mix of trash and class?).  I only had room for four holes instead of six, but I think it still looked pretty nice.

We topped it off with some vanilla ice-cream, and a glass of red wine. Because despite what some say, red wine goes with everything.

Seriously. Check out this recipe. It is so worth it: Best Blueberry Pie with Foolproof Pie Dough!

 

Pump(kin) Up The Volume

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Hello guys and ghouls,

Though the annual Ivy Pumpkin Carving Contest was a dud this year (see results above), my homemade Halloween costume wasn’t. What do you have when you combine a neon orange dress (who doesn’t have one hanging in the closet?), an orange wig (already had that too), a giant black Sharpie, two folders, and two highlighters? Oh, you know, just an Ashlynn-sized Highlighter!

I was pretty proud of my office inspired get-up.

Kass (the bf) even helped me fashion a pair of earrings out of the caps of the highlighters.

My one complaint is that I wish I would have had a bit more energy to party hop. We went to the annual “Keeneyween” where we hung out with a pair of sugar gliders, and then we warmed our toes around a nice fire at my friend Jessica’s house after that, but we lost steam by midnight, which isn’t that abnormal for me….but I should have optimized my “bright” idea.

I hate that Halloween only lasts one day, or a weekend if you are lucky. I wish there were twelve days of Halloween instead of twelve days of Christmas.  I can’t wait to see everyone’s creeeeepy creations!

My Weird/Wild Weekend in Music

First of all, as I’m writing this, I’m still recovering. Not from booze (though I’m not complaining about the Ace Hard Cider I had). Not from lack of sleep (caught up on lots of that Saturday morning). What I’m recovering from is a sort of sensory overload. How can I sum it up? The traveling musicians that I was able to see this weekend blew this little “grandma’s” mind.

This post is a “hey look at all the neat stuff you can see in Beaumont” sort of message. I’m not going to go on and on and tell you that all of our local acts were awesome this weekend. That’s a given. In Beaumont, our musical heart has been pumping hard for a while.  However, I do want to take a few paragraphs to give props to the touring musical acts that are making time to visit the area. So, this blog post is for them. A big thank you in less than 1,000 words.

Friday night, Dave and I, along with Zachary Silas Feemster, were invited to play at John and Jana Fulbright’s house, where they were hosting a small concert for two traveling musical acts: Jeremy Waun and Perpetual Dusk at Curtsy Caverns.

If you have ever been to the Fulbright’s house, you know that their backyard is magical. It has that rustic, natural vibe that makes everyone feel groovy and happy: dim lighting, leaves and vines, found objects, John’s art. It’s a nice place.

Photo of Jeremy Waun taken by John Fulbright

So, after Dave and I played, Jeremy Waun set up and quickly stole my heart. First of all, the guy is humble as hell, but writes songs that made me want to smile and cry at the same time. His melodies were simple, and the sound of his voice reminded me of Davendra Banhart (but less gimmicky). The overall effect was downright haunting. I bought the cd and listened to the entire album the following morning. I found it as charming as I found him in person.

After Jeremy, Perpetual Dusk at Curtsy Caverns took out their suitcases, filled with music making goodies (bottles, lids, cans, kid’s toys, a xylophone), and entertained the heck out of us with their feet-stomping, hand-slapping, heart-filled antics. Steven would at different points in the set, slide off his shoes and stomp and hum and shout, while Edwin belted a merry Mo-town/gaelic (I know it doesn’t sound possible) sounding tune and keep rhythm with a bouncing left foot. I loved the spontaneity of each song, how fast they were, and how they would throw and destroy their instruments in between each song. Good stuff.

Moving on to Saturday. What happened Saturday night at the Victoria House was a musical assault of the best kind. Being at the V-house with such a warm and colorful group of people always gives me that hug-your-knees-to-your-chest-and-smile sort of feeling. Creativity is seeping through the walls of this place, and everyone can feel it.

After Gonzo Sirens and Jenny and the Reincarnation played (who I already feel carry mass amounts of AWESOME  with them wherever they go), I Make The Young made heaven happen. I mean, really. What a voice. It carried with it so much pain and love and whatever else made those songs work. At one point, Holly Jackson and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes.

Then, things got crazy and wild and weird, in a good way. It is hard to explain it in words. Let me try. The Back Pockets came at us in all their glory and fury. What can describe what I witnessed. This photo, maybe? 

This is the result of a frenzy of creative energy. The V-house crowd appreciated every ounce of it.

And the t-shirts were rad (thanks for getting one for me Rob Flurry).

Hope everyone else had as much fun as I did.

Ashlynn